Monday, January 30, 2012

China opposes US drilling in its Pacific region

US senators vow increased military presence
THE UNITED STATES will be increasing its military presence in Asia-Pacific in view of the expected shift in the world’s economic focus to the region, visiting US senators announced yesterday.

“We will be shifting a lot of our attention to the Asia-Pacific region... It’s also in recognition of the world’s economy shifting to the Asia-Pacific region as well as a recognition that there are tensions in the region as we all know,” US Senator John S. McCain III (R-Arizona) said in a briefing at the US Embassy.

The senator, who is also the second most senior member of the US Senate committee on armed services, said the expansion of US military presence will be manifested through “an increase in naval and air assets into the region.”

He also said the US “will be increasing joint exercises with our allies and friends in the region.”

Citing the economic aspect of the US’ relation to the region as “more important than any other issue,” Mr. McCain said: “I believe that the best way to make sure we have peace in the region [is] to have strong military presence. The best way to achieve goals is [to do it] peacefully.”

“I don’t predict conflict with China but I do predict strong military presence will lead to a more peaceful region,” he said. Any withdrawal of US presence “would mean instability in the region,” he added.

China: Strategic Impact Of US Defense Strategic Review 2012 – Analysis
Envisioned in this Review are the main threats to the United States in the 21st Century and United States military blueprint to meet the challenges these threats pose to United States national security interests.

Topping the list of the US threats perceived in the 21st Century is The China Threat and hence the United States predominant shift in military focus and a ’pivot’ to the Asia Pacific.

The US Defence Strategic Review 2012 approved by President Obama emerges as a “game changer” in Asia Pacific strategic dynamics and places US-China relations at strategic crossroads with far reaching implications. It is a manifestation of United States seriousness to come to grips with The China Threat, a seriousness which the United States was ducking so far.

Initially what must be noted is that China has never cowed down in face of stupendous strategic challenges. Remember China taking on the United States during the Korean War in the 1950s, when the United States was the sole nuclear weapons power and China had nothing else to militarily boast off other than massed manpower.

China expectedly can be expected to react forcefully to the new US strategic formulations and therein lay the seeds of an increased confrontation between China and the United States.

Initially, no official reactions were forthcoming and only media publications of Chinese Government mouthed some edgy views. It was only a few days later that the first official response appeared on the Chinese Ministry of Defence website. All of them were highly critical of the militarization of US strategy in the Asia Pacific.

More pointedly striking hard stances was the Global Times, a virtual mouthpiece of the Chinese Government which asserted that the United States cannot stop China’s rise and further that “ China needs to enhance its long distance military attack ability and develop more ways to threaten US territory in order to gradually push outward the frontline of the game with America”

US, Filipino forces plan combat drills at oil rigs near South China Sea waters Beijing claims
U.S. and Philippine marines plan to hold combat drills at an oil rig in the South China Sea to bolster the defense of such sensitive facilities.... The drills involve U.S. Marines training their Philippine counterparts in defending and retaking oil and gas rigs captured by security threats like terrorists, Sabban said, adding military organizers from both sides did not contemplate on China as an imaginary target when they planned the drills.

Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of the Philippine military’s Western Command, said Thursday the exercises will be held in March or April off western Palawan province and should not alarm China because these will be done within Philippine territorial waters.

The Balikatan or “shoulder-to-shoulder” exercises have mostly been done around the main northern Luzon island in past years but will be held in Palawan for nearly a month starting in mid-March. More than 500 U.S. soldiers and marines, along with their warships and aircraft, will take part in the exercises with about 1,000 Filipino military personnel, Sabban said.

Make Philippines pay for balancing act
Not being an empire, China won't be easily irritated or flex its military muscle at will. However, it has its principles. It will not accept a small country in the region creating military tensions by playing a balancing strategy. A price should be paid for violating this principle. The Philippines will not be an exception.

The Philippines has signaled during a recent bilateral defense dialogue that it would expand the US military presence on its soil. US navy ships will reportedly be deployed in the Philippines, and more joint military exercises will be considered. China must respond to this move. Besides expressions of concern and disagreement, detailed countermeasures are necessary.

Given the recent active maneuvers of the US military in China's neighboring area, the lack of a response from China would be inappropriate, though it is also impossible to react strongly toward every move by the US. It is thus necessary to single out a few cases and apply due punishment.

The Philippines is a suitable target to impose such a punishment. A reasonable yet powerful enough sanction can be considered. It should show China's neighboring area that balancing China by siding with the US is not a good choice.

The Philippines and Vietnam are the two main countries creating waves in the South China Sea. Yet Vietnam needs China's political support as an alliance between Vietnam and the US has a difficult line to cross. However, the Philippines can easily surrender itself as a pawn in the US' geopolitical game against China. But the Philippines has its own bitter memory of the US. At least for now, Filipinos remain aware of the history of US colonization. Meanwhile, China's economy presents a huge attraction.

The US will likely increase aid to the Philippines to make up for its losses. This will further burden the US financially. During this tug of war, as long as China keeps its economic growth momentum, it will have an advantage.

China: Asia needs peace, stability
China called for greater efforts toward “peace and stability” in the region yesterday after the Philippines offered to allow more US troops on its territory.

“We hope that relevant parties will make more effort towards peace and stability in the region,” China’s foreign ministry said in a brief statement faxed to AFP.

China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, have rival claims to parts of the South China Sea, home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to hold vast deposits of fossil fuels.

Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the South China Sea.

Manila and Hanoi complained repeatedly last year of what they said were increasingly aggressive acts by China in the decades-long rift.

The alleged acts, which included a Chinese naval ship reportedly firing warning shots at Filipino fishermen, fuelled fears among some nations in the region about China as its military and political strength grows.

Manila is urging non-claimant countries such as the United States and Japan to ensure safe and free passage in open seas and curb transnational crimes.

Naval modernisation: A sea change for Indonesia?
A Javanese proverb alon-alon asal kelakon - slowly but surely - seems to reflect Indonesia's naval modernisation bid. Since 2004, Jakarta has begun to beef up its naval muscles at a modest pace. Indonesia aims to have a "Green-Water Navy" by 2024 - a navy second to none in Southeast Asia - an expectation that some may find too far-fetched. But recent increases in military spending might prove the sceptics wrong.

Why modernise?

As the world's largest archipelagic state sitting astride major global shipping lanes, Indonesia puts a high premium on its maritime security. One of the main responsibilities of the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) is to patrol vast swathes of Indonesian waters despite Indonesia having a Sea and Coast Guard (KPLP). However, lack of resources made monitoring of Indonesian seas difficult and resulted in rampant maritime crimes, such as piracy, illegal fishing and smuggling, which annually could cost Indonesia more than US$1 billion.

Furthermore, natural disasters have stressed the versatility of naval power.

Maritime boundary disputes too have prompted urgent calls for the government to revamp Indonesia's naval defences. Indonesia still has over ten unresolved maritime boundary disputes with neighbouring states; some of them, like in Ambalat and Natuna Sea, often resulted in naval skirmishes among the disputants. Indonesia and Malaysia are currently in dispute over Ambalat waters off East Kalimantan and Sabah, known to contain huge hydrocarbon reserves. In May 2009, naval skirmishes almost led a TNI-AL vessel to fire upon a Malaysian patrol boat.

Similarly, China's "cow's tongue" claim in the South China Sea which overlapped with Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Natuna Sea is a brewing storm. In 2010, a Chinese armed vessel threatened to fire on a TNI-AL patrol boat after the latter had earlier detained a Chinese trawler suspected of fishing illegally in Indonesian EEZ. Therefore, a robust navy is a strategic imperative.

Remember, these are only excerpts, some re-arranged, some out of context. Always read the full articles linked in Guambat's Stew.

Chinese dragon waits for recognition
What kind of dragon is China? It's a worrying question to ask, with implicit motives.

China should not set too high a standard for itself, or fear making mistakes, as having a place on the world stage allows for some leeway.

What we should especially keep in mind is that China is the arriviste in the world club, and is destined to be teased or scorned by others, and we should therefore forget about "face."

We must get ready for economic loss in order to be tenable to stand up to our rivals, and flex our military muscles for that purpose. Only in this way will the world change for China.

China still has a long way to go before it is accepted and respected. Maybe the day will come when China's GDP grows to equal that of all Western countries combined. As we realize how far away that is, we are not in any rush. We also don't believe in the possibility of a future allout conflict between China and the US, as it is the last thing the American people, like us, want.

Enjoy this Spring Festival for now. It looks to be the most prosperous Year of the Dragon yet. Let unpleasant memories be forgotten, and embrace our good luck. There will be more trouble after the holidays, but such is life.


(China press) Philippines sends 'wrong signal'
By allowing more US troops on its soil, the Philippines has sent the wrong signal, experts said, and the decision will cause more tension in the South China Sea.

China has taken note of the report and urges relevant parties to do more to help maintain regional peace and stability, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said last week in Manila that the Philippines was looking to conduct more joint exercises with the United States and have a greater number of US troops rotate through the Southeast Asian country.

The move sends a very dangerous signal that could cause China to misjudge the US' intentions, and raise suspicions between the two countries, Wang said. The US released its military budget last week, which indicated that $6 billion would be cut next year, reducing its ground forces by 100,000 troops, Wang added.

The Philippines also gets a "clear but wrong" message that the US supports a confrontation with China on the South China Sea, Wang said, adding that it might complicate the current situation in the area.

The offer comes two months after US President Barack Obama, on a visit to Australia, announced that the United States would send 2,500 Marines to the northern city of Darwin by 2016-17.

The United States also plans to deploy littoral combat ships in Singapore, a longtime US partner with a strategic position.

"No matter how strong the outside country is, it can not help the Philippines to achieve illegal sovereignty claims," said Peng Guangqian, a Beijing-based military strategist.

If Philippines-US military cooperation increases, the Philippines would pay a price on its sovereignty, he said. The Philippines is a former US colony, and it remains to be seen how far the cooperation will go, Peng added.

The plan for a stronger US military presence in the region has been met with opposition in the Philippines.

On Saturday, some 50 members of Philippine leftist New Nationalist Alliance (Bayan) picketed the US embassy, vowing to launch a campaign opposing the plan to allow more US troops in the country. They held a huge effigy of Uncle Sam with another of President Aquino labeled as his "dog", and riot police prevented them approaching the mission.

"If we allow more US troops to enter our country, the entire archipelago will be transformed into one military outpost for US hegemonic interests," Bayan said in a statement distributed at the rally.

(Philippine press) Government maintains good relations with China despite territory conflict
AMID growing tensions between the Philippines and China because of its overlapping claims on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario maintained that the government will continue to observe good relations with the Asian economic powerhouse.

“Our relations with China, as we had said before, should be governed by mutual respect, equality and observance of each other’s sovereignty,” the Foreign Affairs chief said in a statement.

“We are certain that China will fully concur with our stated position,” he added.

Guambat reckons that China is, again, rattling brushes. But this has the possibility to rattle nerves, as well, and could lead to "accidents", "regretful" ones.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bitter late if ever

The following story is truly gobsmacking in its dilettantism.

Seven years ago Guambat had a go at the so-called PPP financing scheme for major infrastructure. (Look here.) As many foresaw, it ended in disaster for investors, planners, citizens and government.

Now, at last, the finance overseers, who overlooked this at the time, are talking about getting around to bolting the door.

Ai adai.

Big projects get tough new scrutiny
THE corporate watchdog has cracked down on fund-raising in the infrastructure sector to prevent a repeat of debacles such as BrisConnections and Sydney's Cross City Tunnel.

Investors in infrastructure lost billions in a series of collapses and near-collapses after the global financial crisis.

Under the new rules, which have met with stiff opposition in the industry, infrastructure companies will have to either give investors far more information about their management, finances, modelling and forecasts, or explain why not.

Read more:

Talk. Nothing more. The horse has bolted. And is still running free. We need a right proper stockman to handle the brumbies, but ASIC ain't no Man From Snowy River.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

A triumvirate, if not triumph, of reading

Somehow Guambat got his periscope up from his burrow today. Peering through it, he noticed these:

Unearned, and Taxed Unequally
There was, in fact, only one time that capital gains were taxed at the same rates that were paid by people who earned their money by working. That was during the years 1988 to 1990, as a result of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 — a law championed by President Ronald Reagan.

To be sure, he changed his mind about unearned income in 1988.

Read the rest of Floyd Norris' commentary.

Montana Supreme Court upholds election spending limits
"Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people — human beings — to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government," Justice James C. Nelson wrote in his reluctant dissent.

"Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons," he wrote.

Read the rest.

Andrew Sullivan: How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics
And what have we seen? A recurring pattern. To use the terms Obama first employed in his inaugural address: the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider. This kind of strategy takes time. And it means there are long stretches when Obama seems incapable of defending himself, or willing to let others to define him, or simply weak. I remember those stretches during the campaign against Hillary Clinton. I also remember whose strategy won out in the end.

Read the rest. Outsmarting his critics will be only slightly more problematic than outsmarting his election opponents.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

In deep Schettino

Behaviour like this does not just pop out of the blue, especially after roaming around the planet for 52 years. This jerk must have had a history of cocky poor judgement, ego-driven selfish me-first-ism, lying pass-the-buck-ism.

"This jerk" of course is "Captain" Francesco Schettino. Captain Jerk from the StarCrossed Costa Enterprise.

I'm a hero, not a coward says Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino
In an extraordinary claim, Francesco Schettino argued he was responsible for "saving hundreds, if not thousands, of lives" by steering the crippled ship closer to shore after it struck rocks, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Even though it had suffered a fatal gash in its port-side hull, Schettino - a Concordia ship's captain for six years - tells a worried harbourmaster that everything is fine other than just a small technical problem.

When officials again managed to contact the captain, who by now was safely on shore despite hundreds of passengers still being on board, he said he was unable to return because the cruise liner had started to list badly.

Instead of obeying the orders, Schettino was reportedly seen getting into a taxi and leaving the scene as passengers were left to fend for themselves.

Read more:

Cruise Captain Says He 'Tripped' Into Lifeboat, Couldn't Get Out
"I had no intention of escaping," Francesco Schettino, 52, said during his first court hearing Tuesday, according to Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper. ... I tripped and I found myself inside the life boat with a number of passengers."

The captain also reportedly admitted to the court that he lied at one point when he assured officials that he had dropped anchor shortly after the Costa Concordia slammed into a rock to stabilize the luxury liner.

Schettino reportedly admitted that he made mistakes that led to the crash and afterwards, but said the ship's course, including the now-controversial close pass, had been set from the beginning. The cruise line previously said Schettino had made an unauthorized deviation from the programmed route.

Cruise disaster: captain neared rocks in Facebook stunt for friend's family
In a pre-planned stunt advertised on Facebook, captain of The Concordia, Francesco Schettino, sailed perilously close to the coast of Giglio so that the ship's head waiter could salute his family on land.

According to Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper, as the cruise liner approached the island's coastline Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, said to the head waiter Antonello Tievolli: "Come and see, Antonello, we're right in front of Giglio".

Minutes before the cruise ship hit the rocks, the waiter's sister Patrizia Tievoli had posted on Facebook that: 'In a short period of time the Concordia ship will pass very close. A big greeting to my brother who finally get to have a holiday on landing in Savona.'

Compare and contrast Schettino with De Falco:

Costa Concordia coastguard rejects 'hero' label
Gregorio de Falco, commander of Livorno port authority, says he just did his job when he ordered captain Francesco Schettino back to the stricken cruise ship.

"Captain," said De Falco at one point. "This is an order. Now I am in command. You have declared the abandoning of a ship and are going to co-ordinate the rescue from the bridge," adding, "What do you want to do? Go home?"

Italy's Cruise Crisis Spawns An Unlikely Star
Five days after a cruise liner slammed into rocks off Italy's Tuscan coast, the country is gripped by the contrasting profiles of two key figures in the drama — the captain charged with abandoning ship and the captain who demanded he get back onboard.

During the four-minute conversation hours after the collision, an increasingly enraged De Falco orders Schettino to return to the ship and help coordinate the evacuation of the many remaining passengers.

"You've abandoned ship! I'm in charge now," De Falco rages at Schettino, who was apparently in a rowboat at this time. "Go back and report to me how many passengers [are still onboard] and what they need. ... Perhaps you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you pay for this, dammit!"

Schettino can be heard trying to refuse the order. "You don't understand, it's dark here. Can't see anything," he says.

"What is it, you want to go home Schettino?" De Falco spits out. "It's dark and you want to go home?"

Eventually De Falco demands: "Go back onboard, dammit!"

De Falco's Italian expletive is actually much harsher than "dammit" — but the line has become a national catchphrase and is Italy's top trending hashtag, or keyword on Twitter.

By Wednesday morning, his words were a national slogan, with T-shirts being sold online with the words, "Go back onboard, dammit."

One tweet from a woman named Sofia Rosada said, "It's men like De Falco who should be governing, instead we are full of men like Schettino."


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Suits me

Poppa Jack threw his out years ago.

MIT develops a suit that makes you feel like you're 75 years old
Braces on the suit mimic joint stiffness and make it hard to walk, leg straps limit how fast you can travel, and a helmet causes your head to be forced forward, mimicking the curved spine of an older adult. Yellow goggles and earplugs are the final touch on the outfit, making it difficult to read and hear some things.

Guambat is waiting for them to invent a Super Man suit.


NASA: Nada

Just when it began to look like this might be an eventful year:

NASA: The world will not end in 2012
“Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012,” the space agency said in a statement posted on its frequently asked questions segment of its website.

“Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then — just as your calendar begins again on January 1 — another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar,” says NASA.

“There are no known near-Earth objects in 2012 that present a credible risk to Earth,” said one NASA official. “None, zero, zip, nada.”

Read more: